An end to this summer’s grinding transfer saga is, apparently, coming into view.
Matthijs de Ligt will, imminently, transform from football’s greatest object of desire to the latest adornment at one of Europe’s grandees in the aftermath of the Netherlands’ Nations League decider against Portugal.
Tantalisingly – and surprisingly – for a club that finds itself within a pit of despair so deep that even Dante would be daunted, Manchester United is a name that continues to be tentatively linked with the 19-year-old.
Precipitous wage demands that have stalled a once-inevitable switch to Barcelona are, reportedly, no issue for incurably covetous executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward or dealing with quarrelsome ‘super-agent’ Mino Raiola. Neither is the €75 million+ fee demanded by Ajax.
The appeal of the prodigious centre-back is obvious, even to a layman’s eyes. United’s appeal to De Ligt, less so.
Such bullish power and preternatural leadership skills should not be found in a – relative – newcomer, who has made little more than 100 club appearances.
Laymen, however, should not be making decisions at elite football teams. Look beyond the abnormal talent and inject a dose of rationality absent since chief executive David Gill and manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s devastating double departure in 2013.
Now is not the time for United to be pursuing coltish talent in pivotal positions. No matter how steep their rise.
This is different to landing a prospect on the wing, like Swansea City and Wales’ Daniel James. After their worst defensive performance in 40 seasons, a battle-hardened centre-back for the here and now is required.
Especially when much-improved Sweden centre-back Victor Lindelof only clocks in at 24-years old. Plus, next term’s potential full-backs in the resident Luke Shaw and Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka boast a combined age of 44.
De Ligt holds himself like a veteran warrior. Youthful failings, however, still remain.
United’s Marcus Rashford took advantage of a miss-control to win – and convert – his penalty in last week’s eventual 3-1 win for the Dutch against England.
De Ligt was majestic at Santiago Bernabeu in March’s 4-1 humiliation of Real Madrid in the Champions League’s round-of-16, then powerless as Tottenham Hotspur roared back with three unanswered goals in the semi-finals.
Study clubs that United view as – historically, at least – contemporaries. Old heads reign supreme.
Vincent Kompany steadily dislodged John Stones at Manchester City in 2018/19 and Daniele Rugani has been forced to bide his time at Juventus, courtesy of last summer’s return of Leonardo Bonucci.
Gerard Pique offers wise counsel to Clement Lenglet at Barcelona. Jose Gimenez has developed gainfully next to indefatigable compatriot Diego Godin at Atletico Madrid, while Virgil van Dijk will be expected to bring on the exceptional Joe Gomez at Liverpool – fitness permitting.
Even at Ajax, the unheralded Daley Blind was a major catalyst for De Ligt’s outstanding 2018/19.
Bayern Munich appear an exception, thanks to youthful France recruits Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard joining up with 23-year-old Germany international Niklas Sule. But United do not boast anyone close to the retained Mats Hummels, who’ll remain to correct any faults.
Pursuits of Wan-Bissaka and James evidence that the Red Devils require several successful and perceptive transfer windows. Patiently backing standout prospects is the way forward, through troubled lands.
At centre-back though, they already possess one in Lindelof. Rather than attempting – however laden with folly the pursuit will probably be – to supplement him with De Ligt, the equally expensive Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli is 27-years old and in his prime.
Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld has three more years on the clock and a beguiling £25m release clause, with Roma’s 27-year-old Kostas Manolas in a similar position.
De Ligt would deliver the buzz on social media Woodward so desires. On the pitch, however, he and United would bring out the worst in each other.
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